Written by Lyne Desforges, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Culinary Nutrition Expert, May 2018
How do people in certain areas of the world stay healthy well into their 90s? What do they all have in common? What’s their secret? After watching many testimonials on the Human Longevity Project series, I have come to realize that leading a simple life in harmony with Mother Nature was a common thread. The image that still sticks with me: a 104 year old Italian man, riding his bicycle with a big smile on his face.
Here are some of the common themes from the elders of Japan, Costa Rica, Greece and Italy who were interviewed for this series.
- Eat seasonally. One Costa Rican man mentioned how they only ate mango when mango was in season. Not all year round like today.
- Move your body all day long. Many mentioned how they worked physically all day, in the garden, the fields or at home. Their daily routine involved walking or cycling everywhere. Yannoula, a 90-year old woman from Greece said “that when the moment of death arrives, the only thing I think about is what I will be working on.”
- Eat just enough to sustain you. Their food intake consisted of 3 meals a day. There was no such thing as “snacking” or overeating. Mealtimes are social time. Enjoy your food and the company.
- Follow the natural cycles of nature. For many, they got up with the sunrise and finished their day with sunset. Marta, a 92-year old women from Italy adds that “when the sun set, you went to bed.” Many mentioned that they never had any problems sleeping because they worked hard physically all day.
- Have fun. Act like a kid. The image of an elder from Japan, playing his ukelele in his garage with a big smile on his face, moving to the music is still imprinted in my mind. Include play, and social times in your life.
- Be an active part of your community. Michelino, a 99 year-old Italian mentioned the importance of working together as a community. How everybody got along and valued “peace, work and justice”.
- Use natural alternatives to drugs whenever possible. Elders had all kinds of medicines that came from plants and herbs. Drugstores didn’t exist and food was their medicine.
- Show gratitude. Many mentioned how spirituality was an important part of their life and being thankful for the bounty from the land was an important part of their outlook on life.
- Stay connected. Orestis, a 97-year old from Greece, mentioned that “no one goes over the edge. There is solidarity, compassion, and all these things that are able to connect people in order to avoid fights between each other.”
- Keep a positive outlook on life. Jose Santos, a 91-year old from Costa Rica mentions the concept of the Pura Vida. “Feel good in everything”. Be thankful for what you have and for the people around you.
My own French Canadian mother is 85 years old and thriving. She lives life to the fullest, participating actively in her retirement home’s community, surrounding herself with friends and family, enjoying and showing gratitude for the bounty life has to offer. I expect she will live for many more years with that twinkle in her eye and her laughing nature.
* * *
Nutrition Tip: Make sure you focus on how you eat, who you eat with and where your food is coming from, rather than only on what you eat.
Mental Health Tip: Loneliness or social isolation are big contributors to poor mental health, at any age. Danika does agree with many of the testimonials above and encourages our modern Western society to break this individualistic lifestyle and prioritize family, friends and community. So, reach out to an old friend, give a compliment to a colleague, join a new social club or simply say “hi, how are you?” to your neighbour the next time you see them.
Naturopathic Tip: A recent study showed how laughter and humour can improve cognitive abilities and memory in older adult. Don’t forget to have fun, laugh, and be playful. It decreases the stress hormone cortisol which impacts your overall wellbeing.